Being There

Today’s world of software development is decidedly more global. Outsourcing and offshoring is common because every knows “it’s more economical.” While I won’t debate that last statement (I’m not really convinced it’s more economical), it is simply a fact of life and not really the point of this particular post anyway.

Currently, I work from home. I’m doing some contract programming work for a local company. I’m developing an application that they had had an intern start. The intern had spent several months working on it and it was allegedly nearing the stage where it might be considered sellable. As it was used mainly internally, the requirements for style, bug-proofedness (is that a word?), and functional completeness were a little lax.  And so I come to inherit a piece of code written a couple of years ago by an intern.  Most of the code was unusable due to a complete lack of comments, usefully named variables, and code that wasn’t full of bugs.  Nonetheless, I was able to lift some ideas and one piece of code that undoubtedly will save me some time, but is nearly unreadable.

But, that’s not the point of today’s post either; it’s just some background.  The real point of this post is maintaining contact with your employer, colleagues, manager, etc. (I’m going to group these people into a term called “work folks” for future ease of reference.)  In other words, being there.  If you work remotely, getting face time with your work folks is difficult, but not impossible.  There are several options for increasing your visibility.

  • Take a trip.  There’s really no better way to increase your visibility than actually being visible.  Take your laptop and find a desk in the middle of the place if possible (rather than a secluded conference room.  Become “one of the guys” for a week or two.  Have lunch with everyone that you can and get to know them a bit more personally.
  • Make a phone call.  If you can’t be there, at least pick up the phone occasionally rather than relying totally on email, which is far less personal.  Conversations have more range of direction that they can flow in due to their interactive nature.  The scope and types of things you can find out in a conversation are far greater than what you’ll get in an email response.  There’s also a far lower likelihood of being misunderstood or having to ask for more clarification in a followup email and the turnaround time in a conversation can’t be beat.
  • Communicate regularly.  Trips are expensive (depending on distance), phone calls aren’t always easy due to time zone issues and meeting schedules.  If nothing else, a regular email update will keep you in the minds of your work folks.

Whichever mode you pick, keep up a regular pace of communication so you stay on the radar of your work folks.  It will make you feel like you’re a part of the team and make the team feel like you’re one of them as well.